Softball clinched its first conference Atlantic 10 Championship in program history.
After inclement weather forced a cancellation of the deciding game against Fordham Sunday afternoon, Fordham and GW were declared co-champions. As a result, the Colonials (42–16, 15–7 A-10) punched their ticket to the National Invitational Softball Championship for their first-ever postseason appearance.
“Even though we would rather decide it out on the field, we set out to compete for a championship, and these girls are deserving of being A-10 champions,” head coach Shane Winkler said.
This season is Winkler’s first at the helm. After nabbing 42 wins and a conference championship in his debut coaching season, Winkler said he is thankful for the adaptability of his team.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that these girls, they bought in from day one,” Winkler said. “They bought in to what we were trying to build and the atmosphere that we were trying to provide.”
The Colonials started off the tournament with a 4–3 win over No. 6 seed Saint Louis. The team earned its four runs in the first two innings, and junior utility player Jenna Cone drove in three with her 20th blast of the season.
A single and a home run over the right field wall brought the Billikens within one run of overcoming the Colonials. But sophomore utility player Sierra Lange stayed steady in the circle and retired nine batters to end the game 4–3.
The squad also upset No. 2 Massachusetts 2–1 in extra innings. The game remained tied 0–0 for seven innings before a pair of singles from sophomore infielder Alessandra Ponce and junior infielder Elena Shelepak raised the Colonials to a 2–0 lead.
The Minutewomen gained one run in the bottom of the eighth but a groundout, fly out and strikeout from Lange sent the Colonials on to face No. 5 Saint Joseph’s.
The squad dominated the first two innings, scoring nine runs and leading the game 9–3 heading into the third. The Hawks scored five runs and hit two bombs in the third and fourth innings while keeping GW scoreless to stay within one run.
Three runs at the top of the sixth from the Hawks and one from the Colonials evened the score heading into the seventh inning.
Lange downed three Saint Joseph’s hitters before stepping into the batter’s box herself and hitting a run batted in to win the game.
Despite sustaining an injury to her ankle early in the postseason, Lange started every game in the circle during championship play, owning a 1.29 earned run average over that span. Lange has been a highlight in the circle and at the plate all season, leading the conference in strikeouts, wins and batting average.
“What she did in the tournament was something special, and not many kids are asked to do that as a pitcher and a hitter, to throw every inning and then also be one of the biggest hitters in your lineup,” Winkler said.
Another postseason standout for the Colonials this season was Cone, a recipient of GW’s first A-10 Player of the Year Award in program history. Over the four championship games, Cone went 4–11 with three RBI and one home run.
“We had so many players in our three wins that really stood out at different moments,” Winkler said. “The nice thing is that we have a ton of talent and we can rely on any one of our hitters in the lineup.”
After its walk-off win, GW was one win away from clinching the conference championship. But a 5–2 loss to Fordham Saturday forced a tie-breaking match into Sunday. The Colonials scored an early first inning lead against Fordham but their bats fell silent for the rest of the game, stranding 10 baserunners throughout the contest.
“We had an opportunity to steal the momentum but unfortunately, we didn’t do so,” Winkler said.
The Colonials’ overall season has been record-breaking in more ways than one. The team brought home its first championship title and can now claim its first A-10 player of the year and its highest number of wins in a single season.
Although losing four seniors, the core of the Colonials’ lineup will be returning next season. Cone, Lange, Ponce and junior utility player Jessica Linquist provided the bulk of GW’s offense this season and will return next season. Those four players combined for 274 of the Colonials’ 557 hits this season.
“We return such a big part of our group and if you look on paper, already we’re going to have the most experienced team in the conference and we have the most talent returning in the conference,” Winkler said. “So we’ll absolutely be one of the favorites, and the reason is what these girls did this year to build the foundation for the future.”
The Colonials are back in action Thursday as they take on Marshall at the NISC Liberty Regional. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.